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Groundswell: A right-wing JournoList?
Mother Jones' David Corn reveals a "hush-hush coalition" of conservatives trying to out-message liberals
 
John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and reported Groundswell member.
John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and reported Groundswell member. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In 2009, Politico introduced the world to JournoList, an online forum started in 2007 by Ezra Klein to allow a group of mostly liberal journalists, columnists, and academics to chat and compare notes off the record. In 2010, The Daily Caller effectively killed JournoList by releasing some of its leaked archives. (Gawker posted more of the archives — 264 pages — in June.)

Conservatives denounced the group as a left-wing messaging factory set up to promote President Obama and his agenda. JournoListers said the forum was just a place for similarly minded people to talk and argue without getting in ideological shouting matches, and criticized The Daily Caller for publishing snippets of conversations out of context.

The whole endeavor was an embarrassment for JournoList participants, though, and one — David Weigel — resigned from The Washington Post after some of his comments were reported.

On Thursday, David Corn at Mother Jones introduce the world to Groundswell, "a group of prominent conservatives in Washington" that "has been meeting privately since early this year to concoct talking points, coordinate messaging, and hatch plans for 'a 30-front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation.'"

Its members reportedly include conservative activist and Supreme Court spouse Virginia (Ginni) Thomas, John Bolton, Frank Gaffney, Kenneth Blackwell, Judicial Watch's Tom Fitton, former Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), Max Pappas (an aide to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas), The Washington Examiner's Mark Tapscott, and Breitbart News' Matthew Boyle, Mike Flynn, and Stephen Bannon.

Read Corn's article for the type of ideas Groundswell has come up with at its weekly Wednesday morning meeting at Judicial Watch's offices and on the group's closed Google Groups forum. (Or check out Megan Carpentier's roundup of 10 Groundswell messaging ploys at The Raw Story.)

Corn — a JournoList member ("mostly a lurker," he says) — also notes that some of the Groundswell participants work for some of JournoList's biggest critics, including Breitbart and The Daily Caller. That's funny, he says, because "the Groundswell documents show conservative journalists, including several with Breitbart News, colluding on high-level messaging with leading partisans of the conservative movement."

But that's really not a fair comparison, says Josh Barro at Business Insider. "Groundswell isn't JournoList," largely because "its participants are much less important." JournoList included a Who's Who of liberal journalism and commentary, while Groundswell appears to "consist of a very specific subset of disgruntled conservatives: Losers who feel burned by Grover Norquist."

"Groundswell trains its fire both on the Left and on a Republican establishment they see as too accommodating of the Left," says Barro, but members aren't from any of the big guns trying to push the GOP to the right: The Heritage Foundation, Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, and the Club for Growth. Instead, it seems to be a B-list of "extreme foreign policy hawks," social conservatives, anti-immigration activists, and voter ID proponents.

Groundswell also appears to be "all about political warfare and laying down an ideological line, 24/7," says Ed Kilgore at Washington Monthly, whereas JournoList participants spent a lot of time chatting about "sports and books and social science data." (Kilgore describes himself as a "pretty active member" of JournoList.) Maybe Groundswell is "a parody of what they thought JournoList represented," he adds, but that just makes its JournoList-bashing members "baldly hypocritical."

Regardless, it will be hard for "people outraged by JournoList" to defend Groundswell, says David Weigel, now at Slate.

The obvious difference between something like Groundswell and something like JournoList, allegedly, is that the second group's members represented more of the mainstream media. But that was always an inflated claim — most of the people quoted in damning JournoList stories were avowedly liberal. The idea of a group of liberals or a group of conservatives meeting in "secret" is actually pretty mundane. That's why I don't see any real scandal with Groundswell. Conservative news outlets talking to conservatives on background? Who didn't figure that was happening anyway? [Slate]

But there is one difference worth noting, Weigel adds. "JournoList had a strict ban on members who joined the government." Groundswell apparently doesn't, as the participation of a Cruz aide indicates.

For the journalists in Groundswell, like those in JournoList, "their involvement is likely to cast (or re-cast) doubt on the integrity of their reporting," says Politico's Dylan Byers. But for at least one JournoList critic, Tapscott at The Washington Examiner — whose own Groundswell participation "seemed to breach the traditional boundaries of journalistic ethics," Byers says — the group wasn't worth the compromise.

"The implication of attending is that you're participating in their planning, and, as a journalist, I don't think that's appropriate," Tapscott tells David Corn. "Other journalists may think differently."

 
Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian, and plays in an Austin rock band.

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